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FASS professor and alumnus collaborate to study the impacts of precarious work in B.C.
A major study by a Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) professor and alumnus suggests that British Columbians experience high levels of job precarity—and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Co-directed by FASS professor Kendra Strauss and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) senior economist Iglika Ivanova (SFU ‘05), the Understanding Precarity in BC (UP-BC) project seeks to better understand precarious employment—jobs that are on-demand or short-term, less than full-time, lacking in benefits, and usually poorly paid—and their prevalence in the province.
A pilot survey of over 3,000 B.C. workers took place in 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic in a relatively strong labour market. Even at a time of historically low unemployment, the survey reported alarmingly high levels of job precarity throughout the province.
The six-year study is supported by a $2.5M Social Sciences and Humanities Research (SSHRC) Partnership Grant. Strauss and Ivanova previously presented preliminary findings at a 2021 SFU Public Square event, highlighting the social disparity in access to secure jobs between white, racialized, and Indigenous populations.
“Precarious employment is not equally distributed—wider systemic inequalities like colonialism, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, and gender inequality are reflected in our labour market,” says Strauss. “We know that racialized communities, Indigenous people, and recent immigrants are most likely to experience precarity.”
“Precarious employment is not equally distributed. We know that racialized communities, Indigenous people, and recent immigrants are most likely to experience precarity.”
Kendra Strauss, UP-BC Co-Director
Strauss is Director of SFU’s Labour Studies program and the SFU Morgan Centre for Labour Research, which serves as UP-BC's institutional home. As a feminist political economist and labour geographer, she has published widely on the gendered and racialized nature of precarious work. She also teaches courses on unfree labour and modern slavery, looking in particular at how coercion and exploitation are to be understood in the contemporary labour market and global supply chain.
Strauss’ collaborator is SFU alumnus Iglika Ivanova, senior economist and public interest researcher at the CCPA–BC. Her research explores the potential for public policy to build a more just, inclusive, and sustainable economy. As an alumnus of SFU’s BA in Economics program, she won university-wide accolades such as the Gordon M. Shrum Gold Medal, SFU’s most prestigious undergraduate medal.
Ivanova went on to complete an MA in economics at the University of British Columbia, where she became interested in labour economics as a way to understand and address barriers to equity faced by women, immigrants, and visible minorities in Canada. The UP-BC project draws on her academic background to map out how vulnerable groups in B.C.’s labour force are disproportionately affected by multidimensional forms of precarity.
“This project looks at how precarious work impacts people’s lives — not just at work, but in the related insecurity and hardship they experience,” says Ivanova. “We want to better understand the consequences of widespread precarity for the wellbeing of our province so that we can develop effective, evidence-based solutions to tackle it.”
“This project looks at how precarious work impacts people’s lives — not just at work, but in the related insecurity and hardship they experience. We want to better understand the consequences of widespread precarity for the wellbeing of our province.”
Iglika Ivanova, UP-BC Co-Director
The UP-BC project will run for at least five more years and provide multi-semester research assistantships for undergraduate and graduate students in FASS. Research projects emerging out of the reports’ findings will also create new opportunities for student research in the Labour Studies program and beyond.
Strauss and Ivanova have begun to make initial predictions about the subsequent surveys’ outcomes in a post-pandemic environment and under rising costs of living. “We are assuming that elements of precarity have intensified during the pandemic,” Strauss shares.
In the meantime, Strauss and Ivanova hope that the UP-BC project will be used to inform public policy and a robust governmental strategy addressing precarious work.
“We really want the provincial government to understand the extent and impact of precarious employment on people in all sectors,” says Strauss. “This study has implications for all of us in B.C. in terms of equality and equity.”
“We really want the provincial government to understand the extent and impact of precarious employment on people in all sectors. This study has implications for all of us in B.C. in terms of equality and equity.”